Planning on a late night study session the night before your exams? Think again.
Though this is a common habit for many SUA students, sacrificing sleep to cram in those last bits of knowledge does more harm than good. In fact, sacrificing sleep to do anything at all can ultimately be detrimental, especially for teens.
“Sleep is fuel for a teenage girl's brain,” says Mrs. Johnson, the school’s nurse. “It is just as important as a healthy diet and just as important as exercise.” Without sleep, students’ academic performance, fitness levels, and mental health decrease substantially; in short, poor sleep habits can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), teenagers should be sleeping eight to ten hours each night. Out of 369 surveyed members of the SUA community, about 50% sleep eight or more hours on weekends, but a scant fifteen students are able to reach this goal on weekdays. “If I feel tired in the morning, I know I didn’t get enough sleep,” notes junior Anna Geiser, “and I’m always tired in the morning.”
Biological evidence explains the irregularity of adolescent sleep schedules. The hormone melatonin, which triggers sleep, is released two hours later in teens than in adults, and it remains in their system for longer. This is why teenagers do not feel tired until the later hours yet feel exceedingly drowsy in the morning. At SUA, when asked if they felt well rested upon waking up, only 5% of students answered yes
When forced to conform to adult chronotypes, teens’ bodies do not readily adapt. In rising early for school, teenagers cut out a significant amount of rest, and as a result lose an average 2.75 hours of sleep daily.
A 2003 study published in the scientific journal Sleep concluded that adults who went two weeks with only six hours of sleep per night performed as deficiently in cognitive tasks as those who had gone without any sleep for two days. Adults require less sleep than adolescents, so the results of this study provide shocking implications about the health of a teen who regularly sleeps under similar conditions, or less.
Continual loss of sleep affects many aspects of life. SUA health teacher Mrs. Williams contributes: “People who routinely fail to get enough sleep have an increased of risk of chronic disease, are more likely to be obese, and have difficulty concentrating and retaining information, leading to lower academic performance.”
Physiologically, sleep deficiency can lead to worsened skin conditions, unhealthy eating, increased risk of injury, and lowered immunity. Adolescents who get poor sleep may become more aggressive, impatient, impulsive, and prone to low self-esteem or mood swings. They may also experience forgetfulness and inhibitions of creativity and problem solving.
Moreover, a study done just this past summer found evidence that teenage girls are especially susceptible to the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Compared to boys, girls were more likely to miss school, take naps, and avoid social activities as a result of sleepiness.
SUA students are no exception. “When I don't get enough sleep I feel very tired the whole day,” says Grace York ‘21. Fellow sophomore Marie Kaine agrees and adds, “even if I try to keep a consistent sleep schedule, there is always something that keeps me up later than I plan.”
One thing that impedes many students’ sleep patterns is homework. According to the aforementioned school-wide survey, 50% of students are kept up nearly every night by schoolwork. Another 27% stay up 2-3 times a week, and 19% will at least put off sleep to study for upcoming tests. “Each of my classes this semester has required a significant amount of homework or studying at night,” Marie explains. “Especially on the nights before big tests or important papers are due, it is hard for me to stop working and go to bed easily.”
Mrs. Johnson observes that “the girls at SUA are high achievers and strive to be their best selves academically, spiritually, and socially.” She paints a bigger picture of the busy schedules many high school students endure: “They are staying up late to complete homework, studying to get an ‘A’ on a test, and preparing for the best possible presentation. And in the midst of all that they are on their phones texting, posting pictures on Instagram, and looking at their Snapchat. That's a lot to do, especially if a girl doesn't get started on her homework until 8pm because she had theater, a sports practice, or a job after school.”
Grace York attests to this: “This fall, I had golf after school everyday and couldn’t start homework until as late as 8:30 at times. I would have a ton of homework and end up going to bed much later than I should.” Jillian Ray ‘20 also struggles to balance after-school commitments with homework. “There isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done, especially because I want to have time for myself as well.”
Other students agree with Jillian; while school certainly affects students’ sleep schedules, it is not the sole influencer. Another prevalent cause is rooted in technology. “Time on my phone is my break and way to de-stress from life,” expresses sophomore KT Headley. At SUA, 88% of students admit to regularly using technology for at least an hour after 9pm and for many, the time spent is much greater than that.
Not only does this take up time that could be spent snoozing, but it also makes it more difficult to fall asleep later. Extended exposure to the blue light emitted by screens prevents the production of melatonin, thus reducing the body’s natural inclination to sleep.
Additionally, 54.5% of surveyed SUA students always sleep with their phones at their bedside. This can be a significant distraction when trying to doze off. “My phone keeps me up at night because I don’t want to miss out on anything,” Anna Geiser reveals. In fact, researchers estimate that about 1 in 5 teenagers will interrupt their sleep just to send texts.
Keeping technology out of the bedroom is one way of many to increase quality and quantity of sleep. Mrs. Williams provides other helpful tips: “Exercise each day, keep the room cool and dark, and relax your body and mind before bed.”
For more suggestions, you can check out the information board posted outside her room at S-001.